SPACE framework: a quick primer

When the COVID pandemic began in 2020, the world suddenly shifted to remote work, and leaders everywhere wanted to measure the impact on productivity. But as anyone who’s worked in software knows, measuring developer productivity is an elusive problem that companies often tend to screw up, for example by focusing on metrics like lines of code.

Enter the SPACE framework.

What is SPACE?

SPACE framework challenges the conventional ways in which companies try to look at developer productivity and asserts the importance of adopting a broader view. The paper “The SPACE of Developer Productivity” by Nicole Forsgren, Margaret-Anne Storey, Chandra Maddila, Thomas Zimmermann, Brian Houck, and Jenna Butler, from GitHub and Microsoft Research, provides the details of the SPACE framework.

The paper’s authors argue that productivity cannot be boiled down to one metric because software development is multidimensional. In addition, productivity cannot be viewed only through the lens of activity because software development is knowledge work.

SPACE is an acronym for five different dimensions through which productivity can be understood and perhaps measured:

  • Satisfaction & well-being: how developers feel about their work, team, tools, or culture.
  • Performance: the outcomes of a system or process.
  • Activity: the count of actions or outputs completed in the course of performing work.
  • Collaboration & Communication - how people and teams communicate and work together.
  • Efficiency & Flow - the ability to complete work or make progress on it with minimal interruptions or delays.

To help readers better understand the framework, the authors provide a set of example metrics for each of these categories.

Example SPACE metrics

One important thing to remember is that these metrics are provided as examples, not recommendations. Leaders commonly look at the table above and then attempt to recreate those exact metrics within their organizations. However, this is not an effective approach and leaders should instead use the framework as a model to help think critically about how to tackle developer productivity.

For an inside look at how the SPACE framework was created and how it is used, check out my podcast episode with Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey, one of the lead authors of SPACE.

December 12, 2023

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